Helene Niedhart, Cat Aviation, had to find “another way” when she couldn’t get a job as a pilot because she was a woman. That other way was starting her own business. CAT Aviation is now celebrating its 30th anniversary. We caught up with Helene to talk about her career in aviation, opportunities in the industry and challenges for the business aviation sector.

Helene Niedhart, CEO of Switzerland-based CAT Aviation, discovered her passion for aviation in 1980, when she took her first flight over the Grand Canyon. Speaking during EBACE 2017 last week, Niedhart described the experience of flying low over the tree tops, dipping into the canyon, “passing the massive rocks very closely and flying like a bird to the top of the canyon again.”

That was when she knew she wanted to become a pilot, and soon took her first flying lesson – wearing heels and a summer dress, much to the disapproval of her instructor. She soon changed her outfits and eventually, in 1987, achieved her pilot’s licence.

If learning to fly was challenging, getting a job as a pilot was even harder. At that time in Switzerland, “pilot jobs were not available to women,” Niedhart said. “I had no chance for a pilot position.”

No one was laughing anymore

Not to be put off, Niedhart bought a Cessna 421 two-engine aircraft, flew it from Detroit to Zurich and started her own company – CAT Aviation was born (with CAT standing for Commercial Air Transportation).

Niedhart said many competitors and male pilots “burst out and laughed” at her. “I am thankful to all of them because they helped me and didn’t even know it,” she said.

Their scorn just made her even more determined. This year, CAT Aviation is celebrating its 30th anniversary as a charter and management firm that operates a fleet of Dassault Falcon 7Xs and 2000s, along with a Hawker 125-800. CAT Aviation became a successful competitor and “no one was laughing at me any more,” she said.

Positive traces

Niedhart was speaking during the Women in Aviation Networking Event at EBACE.

She said: “I am very happy to see a growing number of women in aviation. We leave positive traces in the aviation business. We all can reach the highest target as long as we have a fearless fire in our soul. After nearly 40 years in aviation, I strongly believe we do not have a gender problem anymore. Women are well accepted and have found their role in aviation but we still face a challenging business. We need people with passion and joy. We need women on fire for aviation. It’s a wonderful business with a lot of opportunities. I have the best job in the world. I wish you a lot of success in aviation, and fire.”